Until 2020 and the forced postponement of in-person events at the UN, the Civil Society Conference was the most important gathering of civil society organizations anywhere. Typically over 3,000 participants from 700 NGOs around the world attended to hear from senior UN officials, public opinion makers, and international media and to interact with each other in workshops and round-table discussions. Until the UN is open again for visitors, there are numerous virtual events available for NGO participation on line.
There have been sixty-eight (68) annual conferences to date. Originally, the conferences were held at UN headquarters in New York, then several were held internationally in Paris; Mexico City; Melbourne, Australia; Bonn Germany, and Seoul, Korea. In 2019, the 68th Civil Society Conference was held in Salt Lake City, the first time in the U.S. not at headquarters. The gathering in Salt Lake broke all attendance records at 4,000 participants from more than 100 countries, almost half youth.
Annual Conferences have been organized by the Global NGO Executive Committee (GNEC) in cooperation with the UN Department of Global Communications (UN DGC) (formerly the Department of Public Information).
The focus of each Conference has been on an issue of global importance, such as climate change, human rights, disarmament, global health, etc. Today the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are especially relevant. In Utah, in 2019, the topic was Building Inclusive and Sustainable Cities and Communities.